Last week the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Task Force released a set of recommendations for state conventions, entities and other Baptist bodies to respond to and prevent abuse. N.C. Baptists wholeheartedly commit to accepting each of the five challenges for state conventions and encouraging other state conventions to do the same. We will continue to strengthen ongoing efforts to care for survivors of sexual abuse and protect the vulnerable among us.
Over the last few years, N.C. Baptists have developed resources for caring for survivors and ensuring safety and security in churches. Caring Well materials were also made available. In November 2021, N.C. Baptists passed a motion that directed Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Unzicker to conduct a comprehensive review of all internal policies, procedures and external materials related to preventing sex abuse and caring for survivors. The review is currently underway.
It may be easy to think, “Abuse could never happen at my church. We all know each other.” It is this mindset, however, that makes churches a target for predators. Churches must plan for and create safe ministry environments to prevent such acts.
We have a biblical mandate to protect “the least of these.” We also need to protect our gospel witness to the world by setting up safeguards to prevent abuse in our churches. Parents will likely expect a plan for protecting children and teens from abuse. A well-documented and executed plan also serves as a deterrent for predators.
Predators thrive in environments that lack accountability. We cherish our polity, but our polity can never be an excuse for a lack of accountability. N.C. Baptists are on mission together in serving local churches to be the safest place in their location and a harbor for the hurting.
What are the first steps your church can take to make your ministry environments as safe as possible?
- Write policies and procedures. Outline your plan for protecting children and teens. This step is critical. Forming a team to complete the work can help. Consider including a staff member, deacon or facility team member, as well as parents and teachers who will be impacted by the expectations and can advocate for the changes. Your church may consider having legal counsel review the policy. Have the church governing body vote for its implementation.
- Create an application to serve. Applications must be completed by everyone who may teach or have access to children and teens. Include permission to conduct a criminal background check. Ask for the applicant’s addresses for the past seven years, looking for gaps in the timeline. Request at least three references, including at least one who has witnessed the applicant’s work with children, one who can speak to personal character and one who has known the person outside the church. References or past employers might hesitate to share information out of fear of liability for defamation. To protect references and receive complete, transparent information, churches can require applicants to sign a release form that waives liability for previous employers, organizations or references. Additional application sections can include a statement of faith or areas of previous children’s ministry or church service.
- Vet volunteers to serve. After receiving a signed application, conduct a sexual abuse registry criminal background check. N.C. Baptists use First Point Screening. A more extensive list of companies that provide this service can be found here. Churches should also follow up with reference checks and an in-person interview. Complete the process of vetting with training. Consider implementing a mandatory waiting period before volunteers can begin serving. A waiting period allows other adults to get to know the volunteer and can be an additional deterrent against abuse.
- Train volunteers. Training volunteers on the expectations for a safe ministry environment is important to the compliance you hope will protect your children and youth. For assistance with designing a training module, contact Cheryl Markland.
- Plan for oversight of enforcement and compliance of the policy. Failure to comply with policies can become grounds for litigation if a minor is abused. Failure to comply also lets groomers test the church’s boundaries in their efforts to access a child or teen. Have a plan for enforcing the policy your church creates.
- Evaluate your facility. It is strongly recommended to add windows to every door in the facility to allow clear sightlines into spaces where abuse could occur. Implement a schedule for locking doors and limiting access to children’s areas.
- Plan for receiving an allegation of abuse. What if the unthinkable happens and your church learns of an allegation of abuse of a minor? Follow these action steps (listed below the question, “What do we do if an allegation of abuse occurs at our church?”).
by NC Baptist Communications